A world-first program bridging the gap between elite athletes and startups

The Athlete Fellowship is an educational program and community for elite athletes who want to re-ignite (or keep firing 🔥) the sense of challenge and purpose felt in their athletic career.

If you are curious about founding, investing in or working in a startup, the Athlete Fellowship is for you.

In this 6-week virtual program, you will gain the knowledge, confidence and network to supercharge your startup career.

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Inspired by Startmate’s original mentors.

First Believers is a six-month program inspired by Startmate’s original mentors. Back in 2010, these mentors believed in and backed early-stage Aussie founders. We're on a mission to find more people like them.We believe that to create a truly diverse and powerful startup ecosystem across Australia and New Zealand, we need fresh perspectives, thinking and networks at the investment table. First Believers is the catalyst for a new generation of investors to hone their craft.


Technical to non-technical

“By the third day of my internship, I was already pitching to the Queensland Small Business Commission.”
— Tsamara, Student Fellow (Summer 2020/21)


Solo founder to founding team

“The great thing about hiring through Startmate is the people who join through one of the Fellowship programs are already pre-selected for being amazing. They are looking for change and roles where they can have a big impact, and everything that working for a startup can provide.”
— Gridcognition (Startmate, Mel20 Alumni)


Solo founder to founding team

“Why does the UK have such a financial services driven economy? Basically … ask the smartest undergraduates ‘what are you going to do next?’, they're all like, ‘oh, I'm going to go work at Goldman Sachs’ or whatever. … The reason Silicon Valley is so special? It is the one place in the world where [ambitious students] say ‘we’ll start a company’.”
— Matt Clifford, Founder at Entrepreneur First.

The why

Elite athletes make exceptional startup founders, operators and investors.

To succeed in startups you generally need these key qualities:

  1. Thrive in fast-paced, competitive environments;
  2. Unusually self-motivated and disciplined;
  3. Feedback and learning/self-improvement expert;
  4. Excellent communicator & teammate; and
  5. Highly goal-oriented.

There is no career that matches this skillset more closely than that of an elite athlete. Without knowing it, athletes have been training for a career in startups their entire lives.

Athletes have:

  • The resilience, confidence and motivation to found world-changing companies;
  • The communication, teamwork and work ethic to make incredible operators; and
  • The connections, unique perspective and resources to be highly desirable angel investors.

Despite this incredible potential, athletes can get lost in the transition from elite-level sport to their next opportunity. Research shows that athletes find the departure from such a dynamic, high-performance environment to a slower-paced, static workplace highly demotivating. But it doesn’t have to be this way!

Startups provide the perfect environment for an athlete to re-ignite (or keep firing) the sense of challenge and purpose they felt in their athletic career.

The Athlete Fellowship exists to bridge the gap between elite athletes and startups, and help you find meaning and drive in the next chapter of your career.

The who

Our ideal Athlete Fellows are ex or current elite athletes (meaning you are/have been a professional (paid) athlete or you have represented your sport at the national level).

If you don’t fit within this definition but feel the program is well suited to you, definitely still apply. We will assess applications on a case-by-case basis.


✅ Learn what a career in startups could look like (whether that be working in one, investing in one, or starting your own), following in the footsteps of Startmate alumni Kirk Reynoldson, Esther Keown and Cale Hooker, to name just a few.

✅ Receive coaching on how you can translate and leverage your skillsets so you thrive in a startup environment.

✅ Connect with a community of like-minded elite athletes across disciplines.

✅ Receive exclusive access to the entire Australian and New Zealand startup ecosystem.

Program dates

The program will run from February 20 - April 6 (with a one-week break from March 13 - March 17)

Essential Reading

Program overview

Here’s an overview of what to expect in the Athlete Fellowship!

Week 0: Welcome to the Fellowship
This week is all about setting up for success. You’ll leave this week with some exciting new connections and the basics for hitting the ground running and making the most out of the next 6 weeks.

Week 1: What are startups?
We’ll kick off the program by beginning to explore the fascinating, exhilarating, and sometimes mysterious world that is the startup ecosystem. You’ll leave this week with a better understanding of the startup landscape and some possible pathways within it.

Week 2: Find your fit in the startup ecosystem
In the Athlete Fellowship, we challenge you to ask for more out of your personal and professional lives. We’ll kick off Week 2 by unpacking what’s really important to you, and how a career in startups might align with your individual values and objectives. You’ll leave this week with a better understanding of what startup stage, role, industry and/or pathway might be right for you.

Week 3: Leverage your athlete skillset and brand
As an elite athlete, you have a unique brand and and incredibly valuable skillset. Athletes can bring a ton of value to startups, whether that’s your mindset, work ethic, ability to achieve ambitious goals...don’t get us started. You’ll leave this week with a better understanding of how to grow and leverage your brand as an elite athlete, and how to translate your invaluable skills and qualities into startup language.

Week 4: What is it like to work in a startup?
One pathway into the startup ecosystem is to join a startup as an Operator. We’ll kick off the second half of the program by diving into some startup roles and functions that most interest you. We’ll then give you some knowledge, tools, and confidence to take that next step.

Week 5: What is it like to found a startup?
Our mission to ‘make Australia and New Zealand the best place in the world to build a startup’ is at the core of what we do, so we want to help the next generation of ANZ’s most ambitious founders create companies that will truly change our future. Whether you already have a startup idea, you have founder ambitions but don’t know where to start, or you’re simply interested in learning more, we’re here to help you dive in.

Week 6: What is it like to invest in a startup?
Another pathway into startups is by backing the next generation of entrepreneurial talent. Investors are critical players in supercharging the startup ecosystem. In the last week of the program, we’ll go into exactly how you can learn to be a great investor (including many misconceptions that may be holding you back).


The Athlete Fellowship program fee is $1,650 (incl. GST).

We appreciate that not all sports receive the same amount of financial support and we do not want this to be a factor limiting your participation in the Fellowship. This is why Startmate offers full and half scholarships to those who would find the cost prohibitive.

You can read more about our scholarships here. Please note that additional eligibility will also be assessed(!)

Want to sign up as a group? Group discounts are available if you sign up with three or more people from your team. Email phoebe@startmate.com.au to find out more.

Time commitment and location

This 6-week program requires a time commitment of 2-3 hours per week to engage with the content and community.

All content will be delivered online and we encourage you to apply from anywhere across Australia or New Zealand.

We know that training schedules can’t change, so all content is recorded for you to rewatch if you can’t make the live sessions.


The application is comprised of 5-short answer questions. Selection is highly competitive, and we'll be assessing applicants on their ambition, motivation and passion for joining our community, as well as their grit and resilience.

While this is a written application, we want the process to be accessible for all. If you'd prefer an alternative format, please get in touch.

Want to join our inaugural Athlete Fellowship cohort?